The Parable of Keith Burtis (Or, Social Media the Way it Ought to Be)

At the most recent Cool Toys Conversations meeting, I mentioned in passing that I’d just bought a wood bowl from Keith Burtis, and how fascinating I found the process that led me to him and his art. I thought it was in passing, anyway, but it turned into a twenty minute discussion, with a lot of enthusiasm and everyone scribbling down his name and website.
Since then, I’ve been asked repeatedly to retell this story. I’ve been asked by coworkers, teachers, people at church, musicians, small business owners. So here it is — a parable featuring Keith Burtis. This is the story of how I found a bowl, one I’d been wanting for 30 years. Or perhaps it is the story of how I found an artist and a kindred spirit. Or perhaps it is the story of how I found a story.
This story began quite a while ago, but my part began on Valentine’s Day, on Twitter. I saw a mention on Twitter (I think from @ConnieCrosby, another librarian) of Keith Burtis needing money to pay for an engagement ring to propose to his beloved, and that he was selling turned wood art objects via Twitter in support of this goal. Well, I was intrigued.
About Keith Burtis
Mostly, what captured my interest was the combination of his being a wood worker and marketing through social media. I love wood. I have several pieces of wood working in my home already, most of which I picked up at second hand stores or from friends. As a single parent, I usually can’t afford art work from galleries or commercial venues.
I started to follow Keith’s Twitter stream, and found him an interesting and engaging real person, not just someone marketing his stuff. I noticed he had a link in his profile to his blog.
Magic Woodworks:
From his blog I found his Etsy store and Flickr stream. Ah, Flickr! (My gut response was along the lines of “Ooooh, shiny.”) I loved looking at the wood pieces. Like Keith’s Twitter stream, in his Flickr stream he was still a real person, with photos of himself going fishing, lots of fly fishing lures and the occasional personal photo. I also saw conversations Keith was having with other Twitter friends, liked seeing the occasional piece he contributed to charity and for helping friends out, videos he made for mutual friends of their own artwork, as well as hearing about his fiancée. Between Twitter, Flickr and his blog, I had a sense of knowing Keith, and he seemed like what I call “good folk.”
Every now and again I’d go window shopping at the Flickr site, but everytime I found something I loved it would have sold before I found it. Hmmmm. Then one day, months later, I saw a burl bowl that I loved, loved, loved and it was still available! I had wanted a piece made from burl for about thirty years, and could never afford them. This one was only $85, which was doable.
Mother Earth6
At least I thought it was available. Contacted Keith via Twitter and Flickr, and found it had already sold. But. He had another piece of burl and would make me a bowl like the first one as a commission. My, my, a commission! I felt so fancy.
Then I found out there were even more layers to Keith’s exemplary use of social media. He offered to make the bowl while I watched. Now, Keith and I live in the same timezone, but he is in New York and I am in Michigan. Well, it turns out that Keith has a series on BlogTV where he does woodworking live, over the Internet.
Australian Brown Malle Burl Bowl
I was very impressed! So here I was, sitting in my living room watching Keith make the bowl I “commissioned”, while I was in a chatroom with 15 other people also watching. We all talked about what he was doing, how he was doing it, Keith answered questions from other woodworkers about technique, asked me questions about what I wanted, talked about how he finishes pieces, resharpened the blade a few times, and we had a grand little party going for about an hour and a half while he worked on the bowl. It turned out that Keith was able to record his BlogTV presentations, and that some of them were archived in YouTube.
About Keith Burtis
Then I found that Keith was a bit of, well, other folks are calling him a microcelebrity. I think maybe that means a microblogging celebrity, since Twitter seems to be his primary route to fame, but I could be thinking so just because that’s how I know him.
Anyway, it turns out that Keith doesn’t just talk to hear himself, but other folks are talking about him. He is featured in other people’s videos …
About Keith Burtis About Keith Burtis
… interviewed in podcast shows …
About Keith Burtis
… and I can’t even begin to count how many folk blog about things he’s done. Me included, now, I guess. 🙂
After a week for finishing and a week for shipping, my bowl arrived!!
Rare Earth
Isn’t it gorgeous? I have closeups of the wood grain in my Flickr account – it looks like flames. Everyone asks me how much it cost. Well, the piece I originally fell in love with was $85. Keith knew I was willing and able to pay $85. Did he charge me $85? Nope. I paid $66. Can you believe that? When I was in grad school I took a course on managing your own small business. One rule of thumb I recall was about how to charge. Think of how much money you want to make for an annual take home salary. If you want to make $50,000/yr, then you charge 3 times 50 for your hourly rate, or $150. The reason given was twofold: (1) for each billable hour, you have unbillable hours where you are doing prep work or skills building or repairs and can’t charge a client; (2) when you are an employee your employer covers expenses like health insurance, life insurance, building space, equipment, marketing and such, but when you are self employed you have to pay for these costs (overhead) yourself. The hidden costs that keep you in business need to be included in your billable hours. By any way I count, Keith is not charging anywhere near what he should be. I poked around the net and found bowls of equal or lesser artistic interest ranging in price from double what I paid to several hundred more, even approaching a thousand dollars. I saw none that I liked better.
How can he afford to do this? Well, I don’t believe he has given up his day job (that helps a bit), and all the marketing is coming through social media, mostly through free or inexpensive services. The social media bit is really working well for him. Why is that? I have my own thoughts.
Keith is using social media the way it ought to be used — he is being himself, and he is doing what he loves. A bit of clarification is in order. Just being yourself isn’t enough for everyone. In Keith’s case who he is is a nice guy who I’d be proud to have as a neighbor, in the online world or the face-to-face world. Keith is making friends who are real friends, and he is there for them. He helps them out ranging from an interview to fill a tight schedule, to making a piece for auction to raise money for cancer or other good purposes. His friends are there for him, and help out when something happens like his car fails and money is needed for the repairs (for example).
Or, perhaps all we need to say is what Keith says in his most recent blogpost.
Magic Woodworks: What Has Social Media of the Internet Inspired You To Do?
1. Live your life with passion and enthusiasm every day! Even if that means staying up way past your bedtime to write this blog entry 🙂
2. Help others and be selfless.
About Keith Burtis


3 responses to “The Parable of Keith Burtis (Or, Social Media the Way it Ought to Be)

  1. I like how you tell Keith Burtis’ story! I first heard of Keith through social media and have since met him at a few different meet-ups. He is a terrific guy, and I do count him as a friend. He is very smart and always has fantastic new ideas on how to use the web for reaching out to people and sharing his passion for woodworking. If anyone is looking for that blog post on the Bargainista blog by Eden Spodek, it is here along with a couple others she has written about his efforts:


  2. I am honored, flattered, awestruck, moved, and humbled. I am not sure I could tell my own story any better.
    Patricia, as far as charging for what I do I would not say that the day job necessarily helps in that my time and materials would be any less valuable. However, I knew for a fact that you had always wanted a piece like the one I sent you. I sensed in your writing to me a deep desire to own this piece and I wanted nothing more than to get that piece in your possession. This again is also the power of social media. How many people have you told about my woodturning? I don’t ever expect those that purchase from me to be a roving sales-force, but that is often times what happens and I appreciate it to no end.
    For me, building word of mouth is the only way I could ever be successful at my woodturning endeavor.
    My hopes is that one day between my art and my speaking to artists and organizations on the topic of web tools that this will give me the freedom to express myself the way I have always dreamed.
    My mantra is to try and always give more than the perceived amount of value the buyer expects. To deliver to them something that is energetically synergistic, and to give more of myself than the guy next to me pushing his product down your throat.
    There is rarely ever a time when I create a piece without inspiration, in fact it seems all of my pieces come from somewhere. I enjoy sharing and drawing that inspiration from others. Social media and web tools have given me a platform to do this and break down geographical barriers.
    Patricia, I know I have said it before, and I will say it again. Thank You, and I am truly honored that you would take this valuable time out of your life to share with others your passions for the work.


  3. Keith and Connie, thank you both very much for commenting on the blogpost. 🙂 I really appreciate it. It took me a while, but I truly believe this is a story worth telling. Keith, you are an examplar of how social media ought to work. You do it *right*, and help others learn how to, also. Bravo! Connie, thank you for originally drawing my attention to Keith. Serendipitous discoveries are the best. 🙂 I will see you both around the e-verse. 🙂 – Patricia


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